Performance and Possibilities Take Off at Milan Bergamo Airport
Imagine yourself as a passenger at an airport. When you arrive, you expect a smooth check-in and an efficient security process. While waiting for your plane, you need seamless Wi-Fi connectivity to work, chat with friends, and receive essential travel updates. You probably also envision clear communication at the gate when boarding your aircraft.
The closer you look, the more you realize that a reliable experience extends to everything at the airport, from the lights on the runway to baggage handling systems to physical perimeter security. Everything relies on a rock-solid network infrastructure, and there is no room for error.
I love my job. I have worked at Società per l’Aeroporto Civile di Bergamo-Orio al Serio (SACBO), the company that operates the Milan Bergamo International Airport, for more than 20 years. Alongside my smart, curious, and committed colleagues, I like to arrive early in the morning at the office and start from 7:30 in the morning to 7:30 at night to study new solutions that will deliver the best experience to millions of travelers.
The airport market has developed extensively over the last decade. Milan Bergamo Airport is the third busiest airport in Italy, after Rome and Milan Malpensa, Milan’s principal airport. Maintaining that position is difficult when you consider competition like Venice, Naples, Palermo, and Bologna. It’s a big achievement, and I consider myself very lucky to work in such a great environment.
As head of IT, I’m responsible for internal and external IT relations with providers and customers. We service all airport operators, handlers, and shops, including 20,000 access points. We developed that infrastructure from scratch, starting in 1999. When I joined SACBO, Milan Bergamo had just reached the end of a contract with an external provider to manage our IT services, and we changed the existing model by developing our own infrastructure. At the time, we saw 1 million passengers come through our airport each year. Today, it’s 16 million.
A Smooth, Safe Travel Experience Demands Reliability
With so many people relying on our core solutions, the challenge of today’s airport market is to build networking and data center infrastructure that is highly available and reliable to ensure business continuity.
Take the example of our local departure control system (DCS). Usually, the owner of the DCS is an airline like Ryanair. Ryanair at the Milan Bergamo Airport connects to the remote host of their DCS in Dublin when it’s time to open check-in and accept passengers, and later, when it’s time to open the gate and board passengers. If Ryanair’s DCS runs into an issue, their passengers can’t check in or board, which quickly becomes a problem for the airport (and all passengers). Our business continuity protocol requires a contingency plan for every eventuality, so in this case, the airport will reach into our local DCS to maintain the flow of passengers checking in and boarding.
Knowing the critical systems required to keep the airport running smoothly and safely, my team and I have to build greater availability and capacity into our environment. Consider that in the aviation market, our business requires redundancy for not one but four levels of security. Everyone is going to the cloud these days, and we use the cloud, too. But for our airport’s core solutions, we have to use our own infrastructure to keep systems running smoothly and continue developing applications to sit on top of that infrastructure.
Bergamo was at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a hard time, but our city demonstrated real strength, and we knew we had to look forward. Just as COVID had arrived, it would one day leave. And even though passengers weren’t streaming through airports for a while, my team and I were always thinking of ways we could prepare to restart services. That’s when the plan began for a new data center configuration.
Did We Pick a Partner or a Solution? Both
My IT team doesn’t write code. Instead, we buy turnkey applications based on a public tender. Sometimes, those public tenders contain dozens of pages (or more) of technical requirements. A vendor usually provides us with servers and software, but every vendor has their own separate solution. We knew we wanted to work with a single vendor and unify all applications on a single infrastructure to simplify management.
Our relationship with HPE goes back to the first servers we chose when we established our data center in 1999. We continued to update our data center with new HPE machines because we enjoyed their reliability. In our decades with HPE, we’ve never had an incident, and we’re also pleased with their support and maintenance, so we reached out to them to see what option they had to meet our current technical requirements and streamline our infrastructure.
Milan Bergamo was a smaller airport when we first built our own infrastructure, and we didn’t have complex capacity requirements. Today, things are very different. We needed to transform our SAN architecture to address those new requirements and expand our compute resources to meet the business demands for data growth. HPE Synergy and HPE Primera promised the capacity we were looking for today and the flexibility we wanted for tomorrow.
Performance Makes a Better Experience
We now run about 400 virtual machines and 200 applications atop this infrastructure. One of the primary reasons for adopting our new infrastructure was to support our Airport Operation Database workload. We use different Database to host business-critical applications, including SAP, SQL, Oracle, Postgres, the CUPS to link at the airlines DCS, and Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM), which allows all airport partners to share the right information at the right time with the right people. The reliability of the system that supports A-CDM processes and procedures is essential because they significantly impact flight operations.
That happens behind the scenes, but we also prioritize the customer experience, and everything that has to do with customer experience depends on these servers. A passenger doesn’t think about an airport’s network. But if something goes wrong with an application that relies on the network—there are mix-ups or delays with check-in or their luggage doesn’t arrive at the correct destination—then they’re unhappy, and it can affect business.
If you want to improve your customer experience, you must improve your processes. That means you have to enhance your infrastructure, too. Although passengers might not think about our infrastructure, when other IT professionals visit our airport and see all our services and digitization efforts, they say, “How is this possible?!”
Milan Bergamo is a 24/7 operation. We have had to move application by application to migrate domain server by domain server. We are now 90% complete with the migration, and we have seen a big difference in performance, including increased uptime and decreased latency.
It’s like trading in a 10-year-old car for a newer model with a built-in computer and automatic features. You were doing just fine before, but state-of-the-art upgrades make a massive difference in how you experience the vehicle. We’ve seen significant improvements in speed and performance thanks to HPE Synergy and HPE Primera.
The Capabilities to Focus on the Future
Every day, various business units ask IT for new functionalities. Delivering those functionalities is where I want to put my team’s resources—not managing servers. The capacity we have built into our new systems also allows me to concentrate on what comes next, like the strategic use of AI.
We don’t want to use AI in everything, but we are considering introducing it into airport operations and computer vision solutions. We have 15 kilometers of perimeter to monitor, in addition to our terminals, so being able to digitally monitor our physical environment and automatically detect any anomalies would be a big help.
Modern air travel depends entirely on the strength of the airport network infrastructure. Now, SACBO has a flexible infrastructure that meets existing performance needs and opens up future possibilities. An enterprise partner should not only provide you with the technical solution, but also help you imagine what’s possible. We have that partner in HPE. This technology allows us to create long-term plans with IT applications and solutions that will sustain our business and provide an exceptional experience for everyone who flies through our doors.